In order to sufficiently analyse the true significance of this piece of music in ‘The Pianist,’ it is necessary first to give a brief plot summary of the film (spoiler alert everyone). Picture this: Set during the realisation of the Nazi ideology of lebensraum (specifically Germany’s invasion of Poland), a brilliant young pianist and his family are gradually degraded and sub-humanized from a stable, loving family unit, to living (in the weakest sense of the word) in the squalor of the Warsaw Ghetto. Harrowing scenes of starvation, desperation and cruelty are commonplace; the main character, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is saved from the certain death that the rest of his family face at the Treblinka extermination camp. After years of hiding, running, and being surrounded by the destruction of where he once knew, Szpilman is forced to forage amongst the ruins in order to stay alive. Suddenly, he is discovered by a Wehrmacht officer, and after explaining his profession, is asked to perform a piece.
The placing of Ballade No. 1 in G Minor:
The juxtaposition of what once was, and what now is, becomes abundantly clear as soon as Ballade in G minor begins. Beautiful, talented and extraordinary musical skill, in the literal hands of a Jewish man, transcends the racism and ‘ethnic cleansing’ boundaries between himself and the soldier who has been taught to hate and kill. It is immediately clear how Szpilman used to live, how he should live, and how he might never live again. The music is simply that powerful; in a few short minutes, this piece of music creates a whole new separate story line that allows the audience to vividly imagine the suffering not only of this man, but of all those who were oppressed during the holocaust. This message is clearly conveyed to the German officer, as he subsequently allows Szpilman to not only keep his life, but also aids him in maintaining his livelihood by providing food.
The original intention behind its composition:
The composer has been stated as writing this piece to reflect the fact that he was alone and far away from home where a war was happening. It is therefore directly applicable to the tone of ‘The Pianist’. The main character is not geographically far away from home, but he is a world away from anything remotely like where he really belongs. I am reminded here of the opening scenes of celebration between Szpilman and his family, their large, comfortable house, and their seemingly abundant happiness. This image is one of those which I believe the music is supposed to portray. The incorrectness of the scene the audience is presented with contrasts heavily with the imagined and far more satisfactory belief that Szpilman’s family are right around the corner, that the war never happened, and that he was simply playing the piano as he always had done. The music is integral to conveying this, as it is surprisingly joyful and upbeat for a piece that the main character may well believe to be his last.
It might be a little bit obvious, but I thoroughly love both the timing and the use of Ballade No.1 in G minor. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment!
Suitability for the desired effect: ***** 5/5
Enjoyment of the music: ***** 5/5
Overall contribution to the success of the film: **** 4/5